Table Tennis With a Mission
Homer Brown ’70, is an entrepreneur, lover of table tennis, and is passionate about serving others. All of these aspects have been intertwined in different ways throughout his life. During his time at Covenant he pursued his love of table tennis and brought many others to the game. After graduating, he spent almost three decades working in the oil industry, and is now living out his dream of all things table tennis.
When Homer was younger, the biggest influence in his life was his father, Frank Brown. Frank worked in the real estate industry, was active in the church, and very passionate about table tennis. Whether it was helping people with their real estate decisions or their walk with Christ, Homer reflected on how his father would put in the extra effort to see that people were taken care of. It was this philosophy of life that Homer hoped to implement in his own career endeavors.
During his time at Covenant, Homer was deeply invested in practical service work on campus with the transportation department. Through this opportunity, Homer met and befriended Roy Fagan ‘72, who played an influential role in his understanding of practical service. Roy taught him the importance of first impressions when interacting with guests and new students whom they picked up at the airport. Eventually, Homer took over the transportation department and was given a managerial position, the first of many. His time working with the transportation department would serve him well in his customer service work later in his career.
In between his studies and work, Homer’s love of table tennis did not die out. He made sure to carve out time for practice and fun in preparation for his competitions. Those of you who were fellow students with Homer will most likely remember he brought table tennis to Covenant. It began with two exhibition matches that included Dal Joon Lee, the number one men’s tennis player, the second top men’s tennis player and the number one women’s tennis player in the U.S. Homer’s professional career, which was encouraged by his coach Dal Lee, began after that first match in 1969, as well as his streak later that same year. Homer went to the U.S. Open for Table Tennis to compete, and did the same for the next 52 years. He currently holds the world record for the number of times having competed in the U.S. Open for Table Tennis. In fact, Homer actually had the opportunity to be on the table tennis team that went to China in 1971, the Ping Pong diplomacy team. However, he had to turn down the opportunity due to the need to focus his efforts on his Gulf Oil service station that he had started after graduation.
In his senior year, Homer Brown was putting in roughly 35 hours a week managing a Shell gas station near the college for his friend James Cambell, the owner of the station. After graduating, Cambell turned the station over to Homer, who then spent years saving up to open a station with Gulf Oil industries. Homer, who was well versed in customer service, opened up his Gulf Oil station early on the first day, with only one person showing up several hours later. He realized that he was going to have to give his customers a reason to stop by, other than to obtain gas. In order to set his full-service gas station apart from the others, he would talk to them while the car was being serviced, offer them coffee or hot chocolate, and give them a great welcoming experience that kept them coming back.
One day a gentleman he hadn’t met came in and got his car serviced. He asked Homer, “Do you give everyone the same service here?” Homer told the man that he did and saw it as a priority for his station. A few days later he gets a call from Gulf Oil Human Resources about a job as retail trainer for the company. The man he had met a few days ago happened to be the vice president of Gulf Oil, and was very impressed with Homer’s customer service skills. At first Homer was reluctant to take the big step because he enjoyed managing his station and getting to know his regular customers. However, Homer decided to take the position and went to train for five months in order to teach others retailing and customer service.
From there, Homer moved around quite a few places training people in retail. He spent a little while in Kentucky, where he met Judy, who later became his wife in 1975. Things were busy for Homer, and just got busier when Chevron and British Petroleum (BP) bought out Gulf Oil’s operations. Homer went to work for BP as their retail training manager for all of their U.S. operations. After a few years, Homer left for a while to open up Table Tennis New England, a small company that sold table tennis equipment online. This allowed Homer to connect with schools for coaching and exhibitions with the hopes of networking individuals to one another and to resources. It opened in 1994, but it didn’t last long because a few months later Vulcan Oil Industries reached out to him. They were offering the opportunity to interview for a three year contract as Vulcan’s Chief Operating Officer. Five months of interviews later, Homer was told he had the position for three reasons. First, his service background and retail training. Second, he had good credit, and last and most importantly, his connection to Covenant College, which is how they connected with him.
After serving with Vulcan for three years, Homer resigned in 1998 because he was determined to finally open his table tennis store, a dream he had always had. In 1999, he opened the first U.S. table tennis store, BumperNets, in Alabama. He originally started in a small department mall with one store, but a year after opening his company he was invited to move the store into the Riverchase Galleria Mall. in just one store, he offered coaching, sold table tennis products, and hosted table tennis competitions. He even had a robot arm with a ping pong table in the front window to attract customers to “beat the champ.” Being a national coach and having won several gold medals in the senior table tennis olympics he greatly boosted the store’s reputation and its popularity. Homer sees the store as a place where he can share God’s love to his customers. Years of being in business have led Homer to expand to three separate stores in the same mall, taking up an entire wing! He now owns BumberNets Main Store, Bumpernets Arcade, and Bumpernets For Kids. His stores sell anything from a hundred to a thousand products a day, including items for table tennis, pool, pickleball, and arcade games.
Although the journey to starting his own business was long, there were many lessons learned, beginning with those very first connections he made at Covenant College.